Mo & Terry Smedley
Heartland USA by Rail
Thursday morning in Saint Louis, we sequestered ourselves in the air conditioned hotel room to stay out of the 100 degree heat. We eventually weakened and, armed with a couple of bottles of cold water, headed back to Laclede's Landing for lunch. Mo picked "The Trainwreck", a funky eatery with lots of Cardinals memorabilia (including an interesting advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes featuring Stan the Man Musial and Ted Williams puffing away). After lunch, we sweated our way back to the hotel, picked up our baggage and headed off to the Saint Louis Amshack to board our Chicago train.
There was quite a crowd on the train to Chicago, accompanied by the usual boarding confusion. I had booked "Business Class" seats, and that turned out to be a good choice. Business Class was seated in a small, private section ahead of the cafe car. It was peaceful there, compared to the anarchy that reigned in the "cattle car" sections. Our car was one of the "Amfleet" cars built by Budd in Amtrak's very early days (1970s). These cars seemed to be designed to emulate the appearance and feel of an aircraft, down to a rounded "fuselage" cross-section, and ridiculously small windows for a railroad passenger car. Thankfully, Amtrak's later capital investments (in Superliner and Viewliner cars) overcame these early design flaws. The trip itself was uneventful, and we arrived into Chicago Union Station right on time (at 8:45 PM).
I'm always a little paranoid about walking around the City at night (that holds true even in Seattle). The downtown Chicago streets seemed filled with other pedestrians, so we trekked the mile or so from Union Station to our hotel on Michigan Avenue. We are staying at The Congress, an older hotel with beautiful views of Lake Michigan. It's seen better days, but it's clean, relatively inexpensive, and located within walking distance of what we want to see.
Friday morning, we walked over to the Field Museum of Natural History. It was cool (mid 70s), and being outside felt really good, for the first time in more than a week. At the museum, we partook of a very informative guided tour of the Egyptian exhibits, then wandered around on our own until we were both tired of being on our feet. The Field museum contains the most complete T. Rex skeleton in existence. It's named "Sue" (actual gender unknown), after the person who made the find. The exhibits about Sue are interesting, especially to compare against the Hollywood version (Jurassic Park style). We also noted that staff members in the museum were very friendly - this was a marked change from Saint Louis.
After we rested our feet back in the hotel for an our or so, we headed out again on a two mile journey to Chicago's Navy Pier. We were in search of a pizza restaurant we had heard about, but decided to pass when we found it looked like any other mall food court establishment. We opted instead (Mo's choice again) for Joe's Be-Bop, a restaurant featuring live Chicago jazz. After dinner, we took a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, then walked back to the hotel. The "Taste of Chicago" outdoor celebration is running this week in Grant Park, so there was lots of pedestrian traffic which made me feel more or less secure on our nighttime walk back to the hotel.
Tomorrow, we'll do some quick shopping in "The Loop" before boarding the Empire Builder for our two-night trip back to Seattle. Unless something unusual and exciting happens on our trip home, this page will be the last in our trip diary!